The Western Music Community lost of another one of its legends on December 30, 2017. Cowgirl singer, yodeler and iconic personality, Liz Masterson, passed away, after fighting a heroic 5-year battle with ovarian cancer. Those who knew her will miss her beautiful, definitive voice, her soaring yodeling, her sharp wit, engaging charm and even her frazzly organizational skills. An exceptionally gracious entertainer; through friendship, laughter and song, she had the ability to express optimism and unfailing good will for everyone she met.
She was born Elizabeth Grace Snider in Denver on December 8, 1946, to Maurice Locke Snider and Eleanor Borden Burwell Snider in Denver, CO. At age three the family moved to Texas where they lived until she was eight. Liz explained that this is why she can easily “talk Texan”. Her brother Ed recalls how their parents often took the family to see Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, at their home venue near Dallas in a “slightly upgraded” stock sale barn. He remembers Liz, then just a toddler, squealing with childish delight over their music.
The family relocated back to Denver again, where Liz attended Smiley Junior High and graduated from East High 1965. She attended CSU and fondly recalls singing in the cavernous stairwell of her Dorm (Ingersall Hall) while strumming a few chords on the guitar, much to the delight of fellow students passing by. Liz graduated in 1970 with a degree in Physical Education and Dance, fully intending to become a teacher. But, due to declining enrollment and a surplus of teacher candidates at the time, Liz never landed a full-time teaching job. However, teaching’s loss was Western Music’s gain. Her career shift led Liz down a winding path, through a variety of life challenges and experiences; working as a waitress (one place of note in the early 1970’s was at the Red Lion Inn in Vail, CO), she also worked as a bartender, bank teller and held down several other odd jobs throughout the years. Liz, having taken many folk dancing classes in college, after graduation, kept up her interest by joining the Boulder Folk Dancing community. It was there that Liz befriended many local musicians who remained her friends throughout the rest of her life.
In 1973 she married her college sweetheart Ken Masterson. They lived in southeastern Wyoming and in Ault, CO. With Ken, Liz showed yellow Labrador Retrievers (for five years) and had two champions, reinforcing her lifetime love of dogs. Ken and Liz were amicably divorced in 1981, and she kept his last name, which became her stage name. Liz often recounted that she was not, unfortunately, related to the infamous hero of western lore, Bat Masterson.
Liz was inspired by the late folksinger Kate Wolf and around 1981, to quote Liz; she “embarked blindly on a music career, knowing nothing about the business and little about music. How hard could it be, right?” Together with friend and musical co-heart, the late Nancy Thorwardson, they formed a western cowgirl band called the “Cactus Crooners”, which made a big splash on the Denver area music scene “right out of the chute”. During these years Liz also developed a strong solo stage show and perfected her performance skills. It was also around this time that she decided that she needed to learn how to yodel, a talent for which she eventually became famous. In her quest to become a top yodeler, she took a trip to California and sought out (and became close friends with) Western Music pioneer and Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee, Patsy Montana. Together they performed at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., as well as at other festivals and in various venues nationwide. Liz’s yodeling can also be heard as part of a sound-activated component to an Art-in-Public Places installation in Downtown Denver.
In 1988, she got what she described as “the opportunity of a lifetime” to perform, record, travel and share her life with guitarist, singer and trick roper Sean Blackburn. Together they recorded six CDs and toured nationwide garnering popularity and great critical acclaim. Performance highlights for their duet were at the Kennedy Center in DC and the Lincoln Center in New York City. Liz and Sean were also founding members of the Western Music Association and the Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering. In 1993 Maryanne Patterson and Liz began coordinating the Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering together. (Liz continued to be actively involved right up until her death)… Liz and Sean’s wonderfully unique and entertaining musical partnership lasted until Sean’s death in 2005. Video clips of their performances can be viewed on Liz’s face book page.
Although Liz was devastated by Sean’s death, she began to rebuild her music career. Liz went on to record four more solo CDs as well as appearing on numerous recordings with other artists (many are available for sale on this web site). She has shared the stage with the greatest western entertainers in the genre, including not only Patsy Montana, but Dale Evans, Rex Allen, Don Edwards, Johnny Gimble and “Riders in the Sky”, just to mention a few. In 2006 Liz appeared on the Avalanche Episode of the TV show, Myth Busters, where she attempted to trigger an avalanche by yodeling. She was also a popular instructor at Augusta (VA) Heritage Center’s “Swing Week” music camp, Mike Dowling’s Guitar camp (WY) and at various other acoustic music camps around the country.
Liz continued to perform as a soloist and in a variety of duets and larger ensembles. Her performances took her all around Colorado and often to other states, even as she battled cancer. Her stage presence and energy were legendary. Right up until her death, she continued to collaborate on ideas for future shows and was involved in various recording projects with her favorite musician friends, of which there were many. The majority of Liz’s recording projects were done under the skilled guidance of Denver’s premier audio engineer Jim Ratts. The creative process seemed to energize her. While on oxygen, Liz finished a CD with the legendary guitar player Mike Dowling called Linger Awhile. Everyone thought that it was her last recording project, but she didn’t stop there…
Her latest CD, Hills of Early Morn, was recorded with members of the roots bluegrass band “The McDaileys” (Willie McDonald and Susan Dailey) and long-time musician friends EP Davis and Clarke Wright (of “ Hollywood Rodeo Band” fame). The CD was originally intended to compliment a western history show that Liz and Susan were collaborating on. By the summer of 2017, even with her health issues, Liz still wanted to move forward with the project and start the recording process. Recording engineer EP Davis, in three Saturday afternoon sessions, captured Liz’s voice for the 10 songs on the Hills of Early Morn project. You can hear the smile in her voice in several of the cuts! Liz also dictated her own song and liner notes. The project was released in January of 2018, soon after her death.
During this same time, Liz was also in the studio with another musician friend; Miss “V” the Gypsy Cowbelle, singing harmony on many of the tracks of “V’s” latest solo project, Tribal Pilgrim. “Miss V” dedicated her CD to Liz. This recording project was also released in January of 2018, soon after Liz’s death.
Liz won several awards throughout her music career. She received the Patsy Montana Cowgirl Spirit Award in 2000, the Western Music Association’s Female Performer of the Year in 1998, and the Academy of Western Artists’ Western Music Album of the Year in 2009 for Roads to Colorado. Liz also received the Will Rogers’ Award for Best Western Album of 2009. As a lasting tribute to Liz, in November of 2017 the Western Music Association honored Liz by renaming one of their top awards given to outstanding new performers to the Liz Masterson Crescendo Award. Two of her longtime close friends (also musicians) Mag Hayden and Ginger Evans, assisted Liz in making the difficult trip to Albuquerque to receive this honor … her last road trip and performance.
The body of this text was written just days before she died, and Liz dictated much of this information, along with organizational plans for her own memorial service. She expressed sincere thanks to all of her fans, friends and family that supported her throughout her life and music career and sings out to you all……“happy trails to you…until we meet again.”
Liz also wanted to thank and acknowledge those who rallied around her and provided much needed support, over the course of the last five years of her life. Liz wanted to especially acknowledge Mag Hayden, Jeannie and Ed Snider, Ginger Evans, and the many other dear friends, family and medical staff who were very involved in helping her with the challenges of the last two years of her life. Liz is survived by her two older twin brothers; Ed (Jeannie) and Fred (Betty) Snider, in her immediate family. She is also survived by nieces and nephews; Andrew Snider (and family), Eric Snider, Katherine Hale (and family), Kevin Snider, including many cousins and last but not least, her loving dog Reba.
Liz’s memorial was held on Sunday, Feb. 2nd, 2018 at the Mountaineering Center in Golden, Colorado (also home to the Colorado Cowboy Gathering). The hall was filled with friends, fellow musicians, poets, and fans that she had known throughout her life and music career. The memorial service was in the form of a musical tribute concert (organized by Meredith Carson). Many wonderful musicians and poet friends that Liz had performed with over the course of her music career (including Rex Rideout, Suzie Knight, Zeke and Janie Little, Suzie Solomon, Duane Webster to name just a few) graced the stage to pay tribute to her. The afternoon performance was highlighted by a surprise appearance by Skip Gorman, and by a particularly moving and emotionally charged song (Pineywood Hills) by Denver’s own, Molly O’Brien and Rich Moore.
…“Ride on, and know your memory lives on high wherever west winds blow and cowgirls ride.”
excerpt from poem by Doris Daley
Some cassettes, many CD’s and links to digital downloads (CD Baby, iTunes) documenting Liz’s recording career will be available for purchase on this site very soon.